(4) The Link of Justification
"Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, THEM HE ALSO JUSTIFIED: and whom He justified, them He also glorified."
As we continue our study of the five links of God's unbreakable "Chain of Grace" as set forth in Romans 8:29-30, we come now to the fourth link, which is justification. As we have followed the Apostle's progression of thought in this passage, we have already seen that the first two links of this chain -- God's foreknowledge and predestination -- have their setting in eternity. Before the foundation of the world, before creation had any existence, the triune God chose, or elected, in Christ, those whom He would have to be His redeemed people from among Adam's fallen and condemned race, and predestined them to be conformed to the image of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Then we saw that the third link of this unbreakable chain, effectual calling, occurs in the realm of time and space, when God infallibly calls to salvation those individuals whom He has chosen and predestined, and He accomplishes this through the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, "the One having been crucified", and the powerful internal operation of the Holy Spirit upon the elect through the New Birth.
The fourth link of the chain, justification, though it is an entirely different action of God toward the elect, occurs simultaneously with effectual calling, or the New Birth. God's elect are justified through faith in Christ, at exactly the same time they are effectually called and given new hearts by being born again.
"Whom He called, them He also justified." What does it mean to be "justified"? In the New Testament, justification is a legal or forensic term which is used to describe the judicial act of God whereby He legally declares as perfectly righteous the guilty sinner who believes and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ. Justification is a free gift of God to guilty sinners, and has its source entirely in the sovereign, free grace of God (Romans 3:24; Titus 3:7), and its ground or basis is the Substitutionary work of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
My dear friend, from a legal or judicial standpoint, poor sinners like you and I have two desperate needs before we can ever hope to be accepted and received into the favor and blessings of a holy and just God:
(1) We stand guilty and condemned before God, having broken His holy law (Romans 3:19-20; Galatians 3:10), and incurred His wrath (Romans 1:18), and therefore need forgiveness and pardon; and
(2) we are absolutely destitute of any righteousness that God will accept (Romans 3:10); all our so-called righteousnesses are as filthy rags before Him (Isaiah 64:6), and therefore we have need of a perfect righteousness, for the holy God of the Bible will accept nothing less than that.
The good news of the Gospel is that God the Father, through the Person and redemptive work of God the Son, has freely provided both of these for those who believe and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is Himself "God manifest in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16)! Since we are totally unable to justify ourselves before God, God in His great wisdom and mercy devised a plan whereby He can legally and righteously justify, or declare righteous, all those who believe and trust in the Person and work of His blessed Son. Therefore, the Scripture says, "It is GOD that justifieth" (Romans 8:33). How, then, can God, consistent with His own justice and holy Law, declare guilty sinners as legally righteous? How is it that God is able "to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be JUST, and the JUSTIFIER of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26)?
(1) FORGIVENESS AND PARDON FOR GUILTY SINNERS
According to human laws, the Governor of a State may arbitrarily pardon a criminal who is guilty of a capital crime and set him free from the death sentence if he chooses to do so. This would be mercy exercised toward the offender, without satisfaction to justice and the law, which calls for the execution of the criminal. In such a case, we would say that the criminal received mercy, but certainly not justice. The criminal was set free, but justice, in this case, was violated.
However, God, who is infinitely pure and holy, does not govern as man governs. He cannot and will not arbitrarily pardon a sinner without satisfaction to His own justice and the demands of His own Law. He has declared that He "will by no means clear the guilty" (Exodus 34:7), and, "CURSED is every one that continueth not in ALL THINGS which are written in the book of the Law to do them" (Galatians 3:10). The requirements of the Law of God must be perfectly met and satisfied by all those who are under it, which is the entire human race; otherwise, the curse demanded by the Law must be executed, which is eternal banishment from the presence and loving favor and blessing of God, and punishment forever in the Lake of Fire. In the light of God's pure holiness and justice, every sin must and shall be punished, either in the person of the offender, or in the Person of the God-appointed Substitute.
In the triune God's great plan of redemption, God the Son undertook to do in time all that was necessary to justify all those whom God the Father had elected, or chosen in eternity, before the foundation of the world. This aspect of God's "Blueprint of Grace" is stated clearly in Galatians 4:4-5, "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the Law, to redeem them that were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." The express mission of the God the Son was to fulfill God the Father's eternal purpose of grace by coming into the world as the virgin-born Son of God, "God manifest in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16), in order that He might justify, redeem, and deliver all His chosen people from their sins, according to Matthew 1:21, "And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins." From the very moment of His conception in the womb of the virgin, Christ became the Divine Substitute for His chosen people. He was born under the Law of God that He might fulfill it perfectly in their behalf, so that a perfect righteousness could be provided for them. We will study this aspect of justification next, but for the moment we want to concentrate our thoughts on that aspect of justification which refers to the pardon and forgiveness of guilty sinners based upon the substitutionary blood-shedding of the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary's cross. We seek now to grasp and understand the great eternal truth set forth in Romans 5:9, "Much more then, being now JUSTIFIED BY HIS BLOOD, we shall be saved from wrath through Him."
Christ, because He is the eternal Son of God, "God manifested in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16), had "the power of an endless life" (Hebrews 7:16); no created being had the power to take His life from Him -- "No man taketh it (life) from Me, but I lay it down of Myself, that I might take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father" (John 10:18). Christ "endured the cross, and despised the shame" for the "JOY that was set before Him" (Hebrews 12:2). He voluntarily and willingly submitted Himself to be taken by the hands of wicked men and crucified, in order for Him to bear the sins of His people in substitution before God the Father, that He might justify and save them! Our Lord was not passive in the surrender of His life, but was active in purposely laying down His life for His chosen people (John 15:13)! Rather than merely submitting to death, Christ actually looked forward to it, viewing His own substitutionary death on the cross as something to be accomplished (Luke 9:31; 12:50). My friend, the Lord Jesus went voluntarily and willingly to the cross, because His heart was filled with compassion and love for sinners like us -- He loved us so much that He was willing to lay down His own life in order to save us! "By this know we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us" (1 John 3:16); "God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Oh, the greatness of the Saviour's love for sinners!
How does Christ's voluntary surrender of His life and blood-shedding upon the cross of Calvary make it possible for God to justify guilty sinners, freely forgiving and pardoning them, yet still be consistent with His justice and holiness as expressed in His holy Law, which demands satisfaction? The answer is found in Galatians 3:13, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." The same truth is clearly set forth in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "For He (God the Father) hath made Him (Christ) to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." The Lord Jesus became our Substitute, and "bore our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). He was made to be what we are -- SIN, that we might be made to be what He is -- RIGHTEOUS! What anguish of soul He must have suffered when the full stroke of the wrath and judgment of the Holy Father fell upon Him as our Substitute, which brought forth this cry from His lips, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46) When God the Father imputed all of our sins to Christ, then hid His face from Him, left Him forsaken to suffer the penalty that we deserved, Christ drank the cup of damnation dry, even to its bitterest dregs. He swallowed up the wrath of God in our behalf when He took all the sins of His people -- past, present, and future -- and was punished for them all, there and then, that we might never be punished! He suffered, in those hours of dreadful agony of soul and blood-shedding, what you and I deserve to suffer throughout eternity as lost sinners under the wrath of a holy God! What grace and what mercy from the very heart of the Son of God for such sinners as we are!
In a sermon on Christ's sufferings and death, Charles Spurgeon, the famous English Baptist preacher of the 19th century, made these comments:
"All Hell was distilled in that cup, of which our God and Saviour Jesus Christ was made to drink. It was not eternal suffering, but since He was Divine, He could, in a short time, offer unto God (the Father) a vindication of His justice which sinners in Hell could not have offered had they been left to suffer in their own persons forever."
The resurrection of Christ from the grave is proof that God the Father has accepted the Substitutionary Sacrifice of His beloved Son in behalf of His chosen people, according to Romans 4:25, speaking of Christ, "Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification," and also according to Romans 6:4, that "Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father..." The resurrection and exaltation of our blessed Lord is proof that every believer is "justified by His blood" (Romans 5:9), and that if we are trusting in Him, all of our sins -- past, present, and future -- are cancelled, pardoned, forgiven, and blotted out forever by the blood of the Crucified One! When we come to the crucified, risen and exalted Lord Jesus as lost, guilty sinners, acknowledging our guilt, and gratefully receiving Him by faith as our Lord and Saviour, we find that He has reconciled us to God, and that God's wrath against us for our sins is fully expended and satisfied in the depths of His great love manifested in the Substitutionary sacrifice of our blessed Lord in our behalf. All our guilt disappears, and God reveals to us His love, receiving us as sons. "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God!" (1 John 3:1). Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
(2) A PERFECT RIGHTEOUSNESS FOR GUILTY SINNERS
The Lord Jesus not only offered Himself up to the Father as a substitutionary sacrifice in behalf of His people, He also lived a perfect life under the holy Law of God in their behalf. He not only secured a pardon and forgiveness of sin for us by His substitutionary death -- He also secured for us a perfect righteousness by His life. What we could not do for ourselves because we are now sinners fallen in Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, the blessed Son of God, undertook to do for us. In order that God might be just in the saving and justifying of the ungodly (Romans 3:26; 4:5), Christ, though He existed eternally in the form of God, and therefore thought it not robbery to be equal with God, took upon Himself the form of a Servant, by taking unto Himself human nature (Philippians 2:5-7; John 1:1,14). In that human nature the Lord Jesus obeyed perfectly, thereby fulfilling the whole moral Law in behalf of those He justifies. Because He is God and man in one Person, He wrought out a full, perfect and sufficient righteousness for all those who should put their trust in Him.
My friend, the Holy Scriptures plainly declare this wonderful truth! In Romans 3:21-22, we find these words, "But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ UNTO ALL and UPON ALL them that believe." It is brought out again in Romans 5:19, where theApostle Paul is comparing the disobedience of Adam to the obedience of Christ: "As by one man's (Adam's) disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One (Christ), shall many be made righteous." And Paul tells us in Philippians 3:8-9 that he has counted everything but loss that he may be "found in Christ, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." And we are told in Romans 4:3 that "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." The Greek word used here for "counted" means "to put to one's account." Now it is evident from I Corinthians 1:30 that this righteousness which is put to the account of every believer is the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ -- "But of Him (God) are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us, wisdom, and RIGHTEOUSNESS, and sanctification, and redemption."
Yes, "It is God that justifieth!" and I praise the Lord that it is so! God the Father clothes the repenting sinner who trusts in the Lord Jesus with the "Robe of Righteousness" (Isaiah 61:10), which is nothing less than the spotless righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. What a wonder of the sovereign grace and mercy of God that He would, before the foundation of the world, choose lost, guilty, Hell-deserving sinners from among Adam's fallen race, and predestine them to be conformed to the image of His Son -- and then in time give those spiritually dead rebels the life-giving effectual call, lead them to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and then justify them by clothing them in the righteousness of His own dear Son! It is a great and marvelous mystery to me that the righteousness of One who is now enthroned in Heaven as sovereign Lord over all creation, the God-Man Who still bears the scars of Calvary upon Him, should justify me, a sinner, on earth!
Now, my friend, whose righteousness are you trusting in to get you to Heaven? If you are trusting in your own works and deeds for salvation, you are like those Jews the Apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 10:3 -- "For they, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For CHRIST is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone that believeth." If you are attempting to justify yourself before God by your own supposed righteousness, you are despising the "Gift of Righteousness" (Romans 5:17) which God has provided for you, and defying Him to His face by refusing to submit to His righteousness. Are you, my friend, trusting wholly and completely in the crucified, risen, exalted Lord Jesus Christ for your salvation? If you are, then you can say, in the words of that old hymn, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness!" If so, you are resting upon a solid foundation, for He is the Rock of Ages, solid and unmovable -- all other ground is sinking sand!